Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

A recent study conducted among older men has shown an association between hearing loss and cognitive function. Hearing loss, the most prevalent sensory deficit, takes a toll on those who are affected by it. And older adults are those most likely to experience hearing difficulties.

A new study, recently published online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, notes that researchers have found that hearing loss has been linked to an increased risk for decline in cognitive function. The study, conducted by Sharon G. Curhan, MD, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues, should bolster the need for particular attention to older adults’ hearing deficits. “Our findings show that hearing loss is associated with new onset of subjective cognitive concerns which may be indicative of early stage changes in cognition,” Curhan said. “These findings may help identify individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline.”

The National Institute on Aging estimates that approximately one in three older adults between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly one-half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. Such difficulties may be caused by inner ear changes, long-term exposure to damaging noises, or even medications. Hearing loss may cause depression or an effort at withdrawing from social situations because of embarrassment resulting from the inability to understand or respond appropriately during conversations.

Aging is the strongest predictor of hearing loss among adults aged 20 to 69, with the greatest incidence of hearing loss occurring in the 60 to 69 age group, according to the National Institute on Deafness & Other Communication Disorders. Organization officials estimated the overall annual prevalence of hearing loss among adults aged 20 to 69 at 14% or 27.7 million Americans in 2011-2012. Non-Hispanic white adults are more likely than adults in other racial and ethnic groups to experience hearing loss, with non-Hispanic black adults having the lowest prevalence of hearing loss among the 20 to 69 age group.

The organization also reports that about 2% of adults aged 45 to 54 suffer from disabling hearing loss. Among adults aged 55 to 64 the incidence increases to 8.5%, and nearly 25% of adults aged 65 to 74 and 50% of adults over the age of 75 have disabling hearing loss. Estimates suggest that about 28.8 million American adults could likely benefit from the use of hearing aids.

If you suspect you’re experiencing a significant hearing loss or even a slight hearing deficit, consult your provider and share your concerns. Symptoms that could possibly indicate a hearing loss include difficulty following conversations, trouble hearing on the telephone, frequently asking people to repeat themselves, or the need to increase the volume on the television. Your provider may be able to help pinpoint a cause or recommend a solution. There may be more than your hearing ability at stake.

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